2012 NAIAS: Electric Work Trucks From Via Motors

VIA Booth

Just because pickup trucks aren't taking center stage at the 2012 Detroit auto show doesn't mean there aren't enterprising companies looking to bring a better idea to the huge work truck market. 

The people at Via Motors — which converts trucks into extended-range electric vehicles — believe they have a better idea, one that could become very important to the big U.S. truck makers and anyone else who might be considering a new truck in the future. 

"We're going to start by staying focused on fleets and utility companies first, but who knows where this will go," said Kent Williams, founder and key player at Via Motors. "Basically, we've spent several years researching what the utility companies need from their vehicles ... and we think we have a pretty good package for them." 

Via Motors, which is a newcomer to the North American International Auto Show, says its idea makes sense for fleets for now, but it could have implications for consumers in the future.

Via's booth housed three GM vehicles: one full-size heavy-duty van, one Chevy Silverado 1500 and one 2500 Suburban. Each was equipped with the eREV powertrain, which replaces the factory engine and transmission.

For simplicity's sake, you can imagine the eREV (which stands for extended range electric vehicle) to work exactly like the Chevy Volt. The vehicle runs on electricity but is equipped with a small gas engine that can charge the lithium-ion battery packs housed near the center and rear of the trucks. 

The heart of the system is a pair of uniquely designed electric motors: a 300-kilowatt-hour motor for electric drive and a 150-kwh motor to charge the batteries and provide on-site exportable power for just about any need. The latter engine is one of the reasons why utility companies are interested in the technology, beyond the fact that the new powertrain can more than double a vehicle's fuel efficiency. 

Each vehicle can be set up to accommodate specific needs, but the simple math goes like this: The vehicles will have a small V-6 engine — most likely the old and inexpensive existing 4.3-liter V-6 — that comes on only when the batteries need charging. (Optimum battery range is between 20 percent and 80 percent full). Range at full charge is likely to be around 40 to 50 miles on full electric power, and with a 25-gallon fuel tank (in some cases smaller than what it came with from the factory), the realistic range of the truck is likely to be about 350 miles, depending on how and where you drive. With a new regenerative braking system, the more city (stop-and-go) driving one does, the better the mileage gains.

We're told there's no reason why this technology has to be exclusive to any manufacturer, so Via Motors is just as ready to accommodate fleets that need Fords or Rams as it is to accommodate GM platforms.

As you might expect, pricing for the trucks is a bit high, with some costing about $40,000 extra for the technology change (which will also include an iPad-looking center console information station). That would bring the total price for the package (truck and powertrain swap) to just under $80,000. Clearly this technology is not quite ready for mass-market consumption, but for utility companies or big truck purchasers like Walmart, this could be an investment that saves big money over the long term.

We did a quick drive in a V-TRUX Silverado half-ton model, and there was quite a bit of normal EV high-frequency noise, but it was clearly not uncomfortable. Since there is no traditional transmission, there is no shifting, so the completely linear application of power was quite impressive to feel in a 5,000-pound vehicle.

The truck did have GM's four-wheel-drive system, and it does not require any modifications; the transfer case is bolted to the rear of the electric drive motor.

Preliminary zero-to-60-mph times are reported to be under 10 seconds, but the folks at Via tell us they can modify the software in the proprietary motor controller in any way the end user needs. So if you want your fleet drivers to keep it under 65 mph at peak fuel efficiency, they can program for that, but if you want more acceleration for merging into freeway traffic, they can dial quite a bit more off-the-line acceleration.

We're hoping to spend more time in one of the trucks to collect more impressions as Via tours the existing fleet to various utility companies. In the meantime, this could be a technology we (and maybe GM and Ford) will want to keep our eyes on. More to come.  

VIA engine 2

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Very interesting but they can keep it. Once all 1/2 tons are hybrids of some sort, I'll be driving 3/4 tons. When normal 3/4 tons get similarly attacked, I'll then drive 1 tons and the game will continue.

A 40-50 mile range on the batteries and an $80,000
price tag. We have another winner here.
So everybody buys electric cars, they come home from
work at 5:30 and plug them in to re-charge at the same
time. Can anyone else see a problem concerning peak
power overtaxing the grid?

I'm sure utility companies have already figured out they can save a lot of money by buying a little portable generator.

It would be nice to get off middle eastern oil but I'll let other bleeding edge types take on the cost and risk.

Bring it on.

We're the Saudi Arabia of wind.
Wind turbines are going up all over the continent.
New nuke plants have broken ground.

If only we can keep the oil companies from throwing a wrench in.

I can live with an electric motor with 0-60 times like those advertised.

They look like they are doing what a company called ALTe has been doing. Im not the greenest, but I think ALTe came out with the chev volt concept first. The engine generates power after the battery power diminishes. If you have gas, you will have power.

You can buy A LOT of fuel for 40 grand. If gas jumped backed to $4/gallon, and you only got 10mpg, you could still drive 100,000 miles for $40,000.

Assuming this technology increased your fuel economy by 50%, it would take 400,000 miles to recover the cost. If it doubled your fuel economy you could make it up in 200,000 miles.

Most commercial fleets don't keep vehicles for more than 100,000 miles, so this thing is basically DOA

The other problem about the so-called "extended range" is that the 4.3L v-6 can only produce half of the power the electric motor pulls. Therefore, unlike the volt, that runs pure gas once the battery dies, this truck will have only 50% power once the battery is depleted. That of course assumes you have your gas engine screaming full blast to produce the juice for the electric motor. Imagine what kind of fuel economy you will be getting then?

electric is good for cite driving. thats it. if all 1/2 will be electric. 3/4 all the way.


According to the Straight Dope:

"If we build wind farms on 100 percent of the sufficiently windy land, we could produce 2.1 terawatts..."


That's not even a drop in the bucket.


Your electric truck is gonna ultimately run on coal.

For people with limited mileage (I drive less than 12K a year), this would never pay for itself. bummer.

Jason, don't burst Max's little daydream.
Unicorns and rainbows will power our grid.

people they only build a truck whit low production this way they do what the government ask to do for fuel consumption,,,,,,same like ford coming whit electric..only need one truck to save the ship.period..

to jason & gobjabbler

Coal's fine by me.

I'd rather have a truck that runs on coal than send money overseas to countries that are hostile towards America. And I'd rather have a truck that runs on risky nuclear energy than reward companies like BP and Exxon with more record profits.

I'll take coal over oil any day.


Max pick your poison. So you like coal, the staple of products since the 1800's that has powered non-gasoline inventions? have you forgotten the smog, much like diesel? Can you do a calculation for much coal to a gallon of gasoline. I agree that gasoline is nonrenewable resource and will run out( lets face it), what else is there? electric? sure... pay twice as much and your return on investment will take a lot of years and driving. Hydrogen is promising, but volatile and not yet fully developed. Hybrids are just gasoline cars without any power and incredibly expensive. 4 or 5 years average return on your money. You could try propane or flex fuel or E85 ethanol but its more expensive and less efficient. it takes more than one gallon of ethanol produced to burn it. To burn a pound of ethanol will feed someone 400 pounds of corn.

Coal is just another long list of dreams, best stick with gas until some realistic alternative is there, and its not any of the above.


a recent study states that to fill up a large tank such as the surburban with e85 fuel will feed someone 400 pounds of corn.

my mistake

Some awesome posts. Hybrids don't make sense for the price. 80,000 ? I don't know of any fleets other than the politically correct taxpayer funded governments would buy trucks for that price.
We do need to do something for power. There are those that suggest algae is a better source than corn for ethanol or even biodiesel.
Windmills - there are those tht say windmills (well, enough of them) will effect and alter air currents and in effect alter climate.
We do need alternatives to dead dinosaurs but 40 grand worth of battteries/electronics backed up by a 4.3 ain't the solution either.


Windmills could theoretically change the weather, but it is unlikely they'll ever be deployed in the numbers necessary to do so...


I cant wait until gas goes up to 5-6 bucks a gallon. Then everyone will be like "Where is my electirc truck!". This is a good start. We need trucks like this. I do not see why we cannot have a truck that can get at least 40mpg now. I would by this truck if I had the cash. Great Truck and Keep Them Coming

@Jason H. - correct. Global warming is a theory too.
What will we argue about once the ice caps melt?
My Chevy boat floats better than your Ram boat?
Nah, Ford boats are the best ;)

Polar ice caps melting would only raise the sea level about 200 feet. Not so good for coastal areas, but still plenty of dry land to go around:


I'm on a roll today!

Internal combustion all the way

@Allistair- The whole problem could have been avoided if there hadnt come to be so damn many people in the world. Theres only so much oil, but if the population was half what is is today...

@Jason H - 200 feet?
If you looked at the average elevation of US states with an elevation below 200 ft, District of Columbia, Florida, Deleware, Florida, and Louisiana would be under water.
I now can see why big government is afraid of global warming. The White House and all of those politicians would drown.
Ottawa, the capital city of Canada is 230 ft. Maybe if we all drank enough beer and all had a really good wiz, we could take care of those idiots too.

That's pretty much exactly the way I feel about it...Have you ever seen some of the east coast cities in the US (Baltimore, Philly, Newark, Washington DC)? It's like the anus of humanity! ...There are pockets where it's decent, but most of it is nothing but people, pollution, filth and squalor.

Problem is, it'd happen so gradually that they'd have plenty of time to escape...we're going to need to come up with a better plan!

@Jason H. - we need to move further into the forest ;)

Those are the bomb! Great high definition photos! I really love monster vehicles and this have definitely made my day.

First, almost all coal plants run 24/7, and recharge will likely happen overnight during off peak hours. Energy companies waste energy during these times anyway.

Second, at 80 grand total, the extra 40 grand for electric will pay for itself after about the first 100,000 miles driven on batteries.

Lastly, with the reduced maintenance and longer lifespan of electric drive system, these trucks will likely drive reliably at least twice as long as a traditional truck.

So, unless you drive over 50 miles EVERY day (honestly, how many do?), this makes sense. Plus, it can power your house in a hurricane!

Fuels In Middle Of The Sea Area Are Truly Expensive Where Fuel Are Extremely Far Away. "Electric Can Save"

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